1916-1923 Indian Power Plus Hemmings Motor News

13 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on 1916-1923 Indian Power Plus Hemmings Motor News
Indian Power Plus

The engine that changed American motorcycling

Feature Article from Hemmings Motor News

Indian Motorcycles survived for over 50 years by keeping a step ahead of the competition (chiefly Harley-Davidson) and remaining innovative. They could do this because George Hendee and Carl Hedstrom recruited some of the best engineering minds of that time who continued to keep Indian on the cutting edge of technology well after both founders had retired and moved on.

Two of these people were Charles Gustafson and Charles Bayley Johnson, and they played a direct role in the production of Indian’s Power Plus series of motorcycles.

Johnson was one of Indian’s factory racers and was part of the race team that finished first, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th in the Isle of Man TT in 1911. He was later the frame designer for many Indian models, including the Power Plus in 1916. Johnson introduced the first semi-monocoque engine and transmission mated into the bike frame with this design first released in the Scout model.

Charles Gustafson was a mechanical engineer who had worked for the Reading Motorcycle Company in Pennsylvania. Gustafson based the Power Plus engine on the Hedstrom V-twin and his earlier work with a side-valve version of a Peugeot motor that he designed for Reading to invent the Indian 42-degree side-valve V-twin engine, a configuration that is still used today on most two-cylinder four-stroke motorcycles.

All of the World War I motorcycles Indian produced used the Gustafson side-valve engine. A 1918 overhead-cam, four-valve version of the Power Plus was installed in a racing bike in 1920 and sped to over 120 MPH, setting a new speed record. The engines were equipped with Schebler carburetors and Dixie magnetos, and they produced between 15 and 18hp. Valves were opened by dual cams, and helical drive gears in the 1922 version of the engine replaced the chain-drive primary on the earlier models.

The Power Plus was eventually punched out to 74 cubic inches in 1923, leading the Chief to become the most popular touring motorcycle of its day.

Indian Power Plus
Indian Power Plus

Factory racers like Cannonball Baker proved the reliability of the Power Plus bikes by setting speed and distance records. In early 1916, Cannonball was sent to Australia to test the Power Plus engine and rode 1,027 miles in 24 hours.

The most famous speed record for the Power Plus did not occur until over 40 years after the bike was discontinued. Sixty-plus-year-old Burt Munro of Christchurch, New Zealand, set just about every speed record in New Zealand and Australia on his 1920 Scout before venturing to the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1962. There, he set the land speed record for under 1,000cc bikes in 1967 on his modified Scout with a 37-inch Power Plus engine overbored to 58-cubic inches (950cc).

Munro’s best one-way run was 190.07 MPH average speed with several points along the track where he was clocked at over 206 MPH.

The Power Plus has always done well in vintage motorcycle auctions. A 1916 Scout with sidecar was recently bid up to $23,000 but did not hit the reserve asked for. At the top of recent bidding prices was Steve McQueen’s beautifully restored 1920 model, which sold in 2006 for $130,000 at the Petersen Museum auction.

This article originally appeared in the May, 2010 issue of Hemmings Motor News.

Indian Power Plus
Indian Power Plus
Indian Power Plus
Indian Power Plus
Indian Power Plus
Indian Power Plus
Indian Power Plus

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